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Postpartum lesions targeting serotonergic neurons in the dorsal raphe alter various aspects of maternal behavior

Holschbach MA, Vitale EM, Lonstein JS (2015) Postpartum lesions targeting serotonergic neurons in the dorsal raphe alter various aspects of maternal behavior. Neuroscience 2015 Abstracts 247.17/R3. Society for Neuroscience, Chicago IL.

Summary: The survival and wellbeing of mothers and their young require high levels of maternal care, aggression toward conspecifics, and low anxiety. These behaviors are affected by pharmacological manipulation of serotonin signaling, but no experiments have analyzed in detail the effects of serotonin-specific lesions of the midbrain on all of these postpartum behaviors. We performed serotonin-specific lesions of the dorsal raphe using a saporin-conjugated toxin targeting the serotonin transporter. After dorsal raphe infusion of the toxin or an inactive control conjugate on postpartum day 2, undisturbed maternal behavior was observed daily and retrieval of scattered pups observed every other day for one week after surgery. Anxiety-like behavior was measured in an elevated plus maze and light dark box on postpartum days 8 and 9, respectively, followed by tests of aggression toward a male intruder in the home cage. Serotonergic lesions of the dorsal raphe altered numerous postpartum behaviors. During undisturbed observations, lesioned animals groomed themselves less and showed more crouching over and less licking of pups. Lesions did not greatly affect pup retrieval or anxiety-like behavior, but did reduce the average duration of attack bouts during aggression testing. This experiment indicates new roles for DR serotonin in the suite of behavioral changes occurring during the postpartum period.

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